When your children start primary school there’s always questions going round. Some get answered, some never do. But it’s helpful to see what other people experience, in case it’s useful for you. So here’s some of the questions about primary school I had, or others have asked, along with my experiences.
I will add to these as I remember more.
Key stage 1
My child hasn’t settled, has no friends, gets upset?
In the first instance speak to the teacher. They’ll have techniques to use, and will be able to work with you to improve things. It might be that speaking to them puts your mind and rest, and maybe they are better settled than you think. Often in younger years, children don’t have specific friends, they’ll just play with anyone and everyone.
But if they’re upset and don’t have people to play with at playtime, ask the teacher to step in and introduce them to join in with others. Or see if there are buddy programmes at school, e.g ours has a Buddy Bus stop so if children want someone to play with, that’s where they can go.
Alternatively, try and organise some playdates which might help with them making friends.
My child just seems to be playing and not learning?
Mine seemed to do this the whole of reception year. Play areas in schools are pretty much all educational even if it seems like they’re just playing. As long as they’re joining in key lessons and are progressing where they should, there’s not much to worry about. Once they’re in year 1 things will get more lesson based than in Foundation stage.
What are the reading book bands?
School reading schemes are complicated because every school uses them differently. Some only use one scheme like Oxford Reading Tree, others use a mix. Key stage 1 book bands are coloured from Red at stage 1 up through to level 9 (when many schools change people to free readers), or even further to level 14. I have a posts where you can find out more about primary school reading levels.
What’s the year 1 phonics screening test?
At the end of year 1, children are screened on their phonics which they should know in preparation for going up into year 2. It’s only a short check and enables teachers to know which children need extra support for phonics. Children have to understand the phonics in real and made up words.
When do they learn to do normal maths?
In key stage 1, most schools use techniques for maths which help children understand how numbers are broken down. Once they understand units and tens, they learn how to calculate sums (using what seems like long winded techniques), but will help give them options in future. Vertical calculations (ie old school with one number above the other to add, subtract, and multiply), tend to come in from Year 2 to 3. They will then build on these as they get more complex maths.
I was so happy to get these because these were the way we learnt at school, and it’s very hard learning other methods once you’ve been using one successfully for years.
My child is struggling compared to their friends
The important thing to remember (and it’s hard), that children learn at different speeds, and some do struggle more than others. You’ll always get one child who’s brilliant at everything, but remember yours might be better at the softer skills, or sport, or practical activities. It’s not a competition (at primary school anyway) and you might think your child is struggling, when for their age they’re not. But they’re just being compared to some children who are just way above their age level.
If you’re worried, speak to the teacher. Ask about booster sessions (our school put in extra reading, handwriting, maths time for children who need it), or think about a tutor if they’re struggling and it’s putting them off.
What spellings should they be doing?
Schools teach spellings differently, but most seem to have weekly spellings to learn and then test on. Our school has different groups in the class, with groups ranging from having 8 to 10 spellings on a theme. The top group may have longer or more difficult words, or even a different theme. It could be words that have similar sounds, use the same phoneme, or are tricky words.
Some schools also have a set of words the children should know how to spell by the end of the year. These can be found online, and are generic to the year groups.
What times tables should they know?
Each school teaches times tables differently but children are expected to have learnt set times tables in different years.
Year 2 – 2, 5, 10s
Year 3 – 3, 4, 8s
Year 4 – all tables up to 12x.
Year 5 – building confidence in all times tables
In 2020 there is a multiplication tables check for all year 4 children.
Our school expected children to learn all times tables by the end of year 3; year 4 is for revision and getting faster. Other schools will leave some of the harder ones until year 4
Key stage 2
When do children start swimming with school? Do they have go swimming with primary school?
UK government says all children should leave primary school able to swim 25 metres. Most schools start swimming in year 3, but there is a variety in length of time the children swim, whether it’s continuous or not, and which year groups.
N’s school is small, so they swim from year 2 to year 4. And all year round. Year 4 attendance depends on how big the year groups are, so our year group is really big which means they have to split the year group. Instead of swimming for 3 years, they will swim for 2.5 years.
This compares with most schools in the area who start swimming year 3 and only give children a term of swimming for 3-4 years. This doesn’t matter for most children as they have swimming lessons outside of school, but if your child can’t already swim and you’re relying on school to teach them, maybe check out the swimming provision.
What’s a pen licence?
Many schools now give out pen licences to children for being able to form their letters correctly, write legibly in cursive, and have the correct heights for letters. Some will do it by year group, others will hand them out to children as they’re deemed ready. Talking to friends and in our school, it seems most receive pen licences in year 4. Some schools will take a licence away if the handwriting drops below the level required.
In N’s class, they were all given their pen licence when the teacher got round each of them in class, rather than by actual handwriting ability. Having a pen licence means they write in pen all the time, except for maths which continues to be in pencil.
How much homework do they get? How much do they need to do?
Like everything else with school, it varies. I know people whose children across different school years, who don’t get any homework. While we get homework every week night, as well as now being in key stage 2, weekend homework. Talking to friends it seems we’re at the top end amounts of homework.
Generally homework starts as reading books – parents reading and talking about the pictures, progressing to spellings and the child reading. We had Maths or English worksheets added in Class 2 (year 1 and 2). In year 3 and 4 they get something every day:
Monday is English – usually writing their spellings into sentences
Tuesday – practising spellings
Wednesday – maths worksheet or challenge grid for multiplication
Thursday – time tables, usually writing out 2 times tables
Friday – usually reading comprehension sheet, or research – finding out x number of facts about their topic.
Homework is 20 minutes max (so for maths, they do as much as they can in this time), and reading is meant to be done for 10 minutes each day.
Some schools tend to only have reading, spelling, times tables, and then will set a project for a half term or term. Thankfully our school don’t do projects like this, but many do.
Not all parents like homework, and I know people who don’t make their children do it. Schools will react differently to this. Ours let it go when children are in key stage 1, in key stage 2, there might be a discussion about doing homework, and if it’s not completed they may have to stay in at breaktime to finish it.
What’s the year 4 multiplication test?
Summer 2020 sees the start of the Year 4 multiplication tables check. All children will have to do a computerised test, although the results are only for the schools to understand which children might need more support.
You can find out more in my post about the multiplication tables check.
When do they start free reading?
Each school does it differently. Free reading is when children are fluent enough at reading to be able to choose the books they want to read, rather than continuing to read reading scheme level books. It tends to be the move to chapter books. Our school is largely Year 3 when children move to free reading, but obviously more able readers will move earlier. Some schools will have class suitable book shelves to choose from, while others will let children just choose from the library.
How can I remember everything? There’s so much going on.
When children start school it is a lesson in logistics and organisation. Especially if you’re also working and have childcare to juggle as well. The solutions are:
- reading the newsletter and school communications
- a good, well used and accessible by the family, calendar
- a good routine
- setting expectations of children
- writing and checking lots of lists (with reminders)
- to accept that balls will be dropped at least once a year
It amazes me how many parents never seem to know what is going on at school, and don’t read school newsletters. There’s no hope in knowing if you don’t read them. Although our school is good with reminders and newsletters so we are lucky.
Why is there so much fund raising?
School budgets are more stretched than ever. They need specialist teachers, nowadays they have TAs to pay for (we never had TAs at my school when we were kids, it was just the teacher and occasional parents who came in for reading and art), school upkeep is expensive, and classrooms now have technology to pay for, and schools are bursting at the seams. Some schools even struggle to pay for the basics like pens and books.
Fund raising in schools isn’t new. Fund-raising enables schools to provide the extras like subsidies for school trips, swimming lessons, providing more clubs and getting in external coaches. Fund-raising is done for the school but also for national events like Children in Need and MacMillan Cancer. It builds community and also is a lesson to the school children to support those who aren’t as fortunate as themselves.
Do I have to get involved with the PTA?
No. But bear in mind that PTAs cover a lot of the shortfall for school funding, especially when it comes to fun and extra-curricular activities. If no one gets involved, there’s less fund-raising, then the school and children suffer. You don’t need to volunteer to be chair or on the committee. But baking cakes, turning up to events, selling raffle tickets etc. Every parent should really try and support the PTA in some way.
If you want to get to know people in the school, then joining the PTA is a no-brainer, as you’ll get to know some of the teachers, as well as parents from other year groups.
My child hates dressing up but there’s so much of it?
Most schools have optional dressing up days. If your child won’t dress up there are 2 options.
- Send them in school uniform, but explain they might be the only ones (mine won’t dress up for World Book Day and he doesn’t care that he’s usually only 1 of 2 or 3 children in uniform)
- Find easy costumes that are more like normal clothes – read my tips for World Book Day costumes for ideas.
Does my child have to sit the SATs exams?
All children in school have to sit the SATs exams. Some people might take a holiday or remove their children from school for that week, but this is unlikely to be approved by the school. SATs are in Year 2 and Year 6.
Hopefully this has provided lots of answers to questions you might have. But do let me know if there’s any other questions you have?